The Twins of NDISC: August and Zoe Desch ‘21

Author: Notre Dame International Security Center

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At NDISC, we are a family of international security scholars—sometimes literally! For twins Zoe and August Desch, both Notre Dame Class of 2021, the University and the International Security Center are in their veins. From their great grandfather’s—for whom August is named—studies at Notre Dame to their father, Michael’s, establishment and direction of NDISC in 2008, the twins have taken great pride in the Blue and Gold of the University. We recently sat down with Zoe and August to talk about their backgrounds.

For Zoe, the decision to go to Notre Dame and to study political science were callings she couldn’t ignore. “I value being close to my family both in proximity and in spirit,” she says, “and the enduring culture of Notre Dame has kept that alive for me. Due to my passion for politics and policy from high school, I knew I wanted to be a political science before I even started applying for colleges.”

August says his journey to Notre Dame was less straightforward. “Growing up in South Bend with our family’s ties to the institution, I always wanted to go to Notre Dame, but I wasn’t a great student in high school, so I started college at Holy Cross College (a school administered by Congregation of Holy Cross in Notre Dame, and which often serves as an academic channel into Notre Dame). I taught myself how to play tuba and tried out for the Notre Dame Marching Band—which got my foot in the door at Notre Dame. I subsequently transferred in prior to my sophomore year.”

Zoe and August both recall being immersed in NDISC, and both describe fond memories of going to NDISC seminars and the annual Small Unit Leadership Exercise (SULE). Zoe says “seeing the camaraderie, consistent programming, and the course offerings really lit a fire” within her. August echoes this, saying “NDISC was a great addition to the political science curriculum I was already studying.”

Zoe and Michael pictured at the 2022 Notre Dame vs. Navy football game in Baltimore.
Zoe and her father Michael pictured at the 2022 Notre Dame vs. Navy football game in Baltimore.
When asked which classes resonated with them most in the NDISC curriculum, August and Zoe describe the rewards of their work. Zoe says, “I really enjoyed the senior thesis capstone project overseen by Professor Eugene Gholz. It was something I can truly call my own. And though it was one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever done, I am so glad I did it. The depth and breadth of knowledge I developed over the course of the writing and researching process wasn’t just rewarding internally, but it also helped me land my internships and, eventually, my current job.”
August describes Professor Sebastian Rosato’s course on Great Power Politics: “The course really taught me to think clearly, rationally, and systematically about great power politics. Especially in an era of emerging great power competition, the course was both relevant and thought provoking.”

Where are the Desch twins now? After graduating, they chose different career paths:

Zoe’s interests lie in national security, foreign policy, and statecraft. At the time of this writing, she’s an assistant to Quincy Institute CEO Lora Lumpe. She describes how NDISC prepared her for these responsibilities saying, “NDISC pushed me to be a better writer. For the National Security Policy Making course, I wrote a series of white papers that closely mimic the writing I do now for the Quincy Institute. In my work, and in DC in general, you have to be really good at communicating ideas to very busy people. NDISC prepared me for that.”

In addition to pursuing a graduate degree at The Naval War College, August is currently transitioning from working for Senator Mike Lee of Utah as an energy staffer to working for Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio (who earned his MBA from Notre Dame in 2005). He describes energy policy as “really fun.” He continues, “It is an enormous and complex area. It was a big learning experience working on the energy portfolio items for this year's Senate NDAA. There are a lot of overlapping issues between energy and national security; the NDISC curriculum prepared me well to have an interest and work on the policy portfolio.”

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August and his father Michael at the 2022 Notre Dame vs. Navy football game in Baltimore.
Both encourage anyone who is interested in the NDISC program to explore the possibilities the Center offers! August says “go to events and get to know the faculty. While it is certainly a time commitment, it is a worthwhile program if you are interested in International Relations and national security.”

Zoe concurs, saying, “These are people who you can talk to about your academic passions, network with, and do NDISC with. If you’re unsure, you can go to the talks or sign up for the National Security Policy Making course. Both give prospective fellows a good example of what to expect from the program.”

Why should you study foreign? Zoe says, “it’s a complex and exciting field with endless opportunities for continued learning.” August adds, “right now is a really interesting time to be working in and studying politics, particularly International Relations.”

Of his children and their continued success, Michael Desch says, “It was great to have them at such a fine University so close to home because we got to see on a regular basis how much they were growing up as young adults and into their careers in our Nation's Capital. Of course, I am thrilled that they both chose to go into the ‘family business’—international security—and [my wife] Mary Jo and I look forward to watching them as they continue what we know will be exciting careers serving God, Country, and Notre Dame.”

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